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Home Subscriber Articles Industry Leaders Headshots 101: The Headshot Is Your Calling Card

Headshots 101: The Headshot Is Your Calling Card

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Theater, film, and television actors, models, singers, and other entertainers are often required to include a headshot, along with their resume, when applying for a job.  So, what should a headshot look like?  Headshots are 8 x 10 prints of the performer where the face is clearly shown.  Included on the photo will be the name of the performer, usually in the bottom right hand corner. With your headshot you will staple a resume (facing outward) to the back.  Here we are addressing headshots for actors/actresses. Those for models and singers are a little different and will be looked at in an upcoming article, as will resumes.

A good headshot will get the attention of the casting director. These images should capture the nature of the actor at his or her best, but not look too posed, polished, and perfected that they detract from seeing the real person. A relaxed, candid pose is best. Clothing worn to the shoot should be casual, but not too casual, and in mid- tone colors. Accessories and jewelry should be on the small side, since nothing should divert attention from the individual. Have 8X10’s done professionally, because anything less in size and quality will mark you as a novice and the casting director won’t want to take the time, since they receive so many professional looking headshots, especially for open casting calls.  A good rule of thumb is to have new headshots done every two to five to years. Here are some examples of some headshots:

Open casting calls are when you are submitting without an agent. These headshots for open calls come into casting directors by the hundreds, sometimes even the thousands. Casting directors sort through these and separate them into piles. Casting directors throw out any that don't fit for what they are looking for. So, it is important that it stand out and say "Look at me!"

When you have an agent, the only difference is that your agent submits you for all of those casting calls that are not open. Meaning that instead of thousands of headshots being sorted through, there are usually not as many being looked at.

An actor/actress should have two different types of headshots printed at all times: the commercial and the theatrical. For the commercial shot, warm, friendly, trusting and vanilla is the primary image that is wanted. Smiley and light is the image the casting director is expecting regardless of the character and concept of the commercial. The theatrical headshots are submitted for plays, television and film. Directors are looking for someone smart, able and hopefully responsible.  These headshots should show confidence without arrogance. Examples of commercial and theatrical headshots:

"If you do a big mailing and don't get any calls - get another picture and try again," says Bob Fraser, actor, writer, director, producer and author. "Keep doing this until you get a picture that gets you called in. Don't whine that it's too expensive. Without a headshot that is working (getting you called in), you are like a butcher who has no knives. "

Though we talk of mailing headshots, the Internet is the primary means of submitting actors for commercial auditions, so it is important to have up to date photos on line. The point is to make sure the photo shows who you are in "real life."

Electronic submittal is relatively the same as mailing, except you can have many shots in your profile that show your range and you can select the image that you want to send. This is a great tool as you have more flexibility to have defining shots of your casting.  Like a punker, street kid, cop, lawyer, Mom, etc. To print headshots with that much selection in casting is often too expensive. So, electronic submittals offer that for you.

Top 10 List For Headshots:

1)  First and foremost, the headshot must look professional.   An 8x10” in a matte finish.  If an actor doesn't have the commitment to get a headshot done professionally, how can we expect him or her to act professionally on the set?

2)  Make sure the headshot looks like you.  The more your headshot looks like you, the better the headshot.  You want one that exudes your personality and embraces your best qualities. The photo should enable the casting director to discern the kind of actor/person you are simply by taking a glance at the photo.

When you decide to change your look—lose weight, cut or color your hair, grow a goatee—it affects any number of people, including the agents and casting directors. And still it is a point that many actors seem reluctant to discuss with the very people who need to know about it most. It causes ongoing frustration and can be very confusing.

"I open someone's headshot online and I see a multitude of hair colors...and I don't know which girl I'm bringing in," says longtime L.A. casting director Ava Shevitt.  Even a call to the person’s agent may not elicit accurate information if the agent has not seen the actor in awhile.

"Pictures are the bait that gets the actors in for an audition," says one agent.  Many actors do not get this concept, because if the actor is brought in based on the headshot showing long blond hair and the actor actually has brown cropped hair, this will not make a good impression on the casting director.

3)  Be careful with make up.   Close to natural, exactly the same that you yourself could apply. Look like your headshot and have your headshot look like you.

4)  Don't try to hide freckles, moles, or wrinkles under heavy makeup or through awkward poses.   This will come across badly on camera and isn't a true representation of who you are.

5)  Do show your age.   A casting director will not be pleased when you look ten years older than your photo.

6)  Make sure the picture is about you, not focusing on hair, shoes, clothes or surroundings.   Wear a solid color, very dark or very light, with clean necklines and be sure the background (if you can see any at all) is simple and not too distracting. Remember, you want people to focus on your face and what you look like rather than on what you're wearing or what might be going on behind you. This is why photographers usually choose to shoot headshots up against a wall, or some other solid background.

7) Don't show too much skin.   Women, no excess cleavage.  Men, keep your shirt on.  Casting directors generally do not want to see that much of you.

8) Have a couple different options of your headshot at the ready, so you can send different versions depending on the type of project.  However, don't set up a dozen different poses -- this will more often than not, hurt you more than help you.  Like mentioned earlier, a commercial shot and a theatrical shot.

9)  If you smile, get your whole face, especially the eyes, into the smile.   Otherwise just a "real you" look is best.

10)  Update your headshot every two to five years or whenever you've undergone significant physical change, such as weight loss or gain.

The biggest thing to take away from this is to have your headshots done professionally and keep them current with how you look.  While you are at it, be sure you make use of this website to make a free profile and place your headshots, along with three full body shots. The Breakaway Talent and Casting website is about networking, talent finding jobs, and clients looking for talent.  So Talent, if you have your headshots, place them here with your stats and resume.


Carolyn Schrader is a writer and social media manager for Video Integrations.



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